In a dramatic breakthrough for the security services, police say they now know the identity of three of the men they believe were responsible for last Thursday’s attacks, which claimed the lives of at least 52 people.
One of the four suicide bombers was thought to be Shahzad Tanweer, 22, who friends described as a cricket-loving, sports science graduate, and another was only a teenager.
A second bomber was named in newspaper reports last night as Hasib Hussain, 19.
At least three of the four are believed to have been British males of Pakistani origin who lived in West Yorkshire. Detectives are still unsure about the identity of the fourth bomber.
A relative of one of the suspects was arrested in West Yorkshire yesterday and was being taken to London to be questioned by anti-terrorist officers.
Just 20 minutes before blowing themselves up, the four bombers were captured on CCTV at King’s Cross station, talking casually as they carried their devices in army-style rucksacks.
A senior security source, who has viewed the footage, said: “They were chatting. You would think they were going on a hiking holiday.”
After days when the police investigation had struggled to yield an important lead, officers raided six addresses in West Yorkshire yesterday. It is believed the breakthrough resulted from personal documents and possessions recovered from the London bomb sites.
A car thought to be linked to the bombers was searched at Luton railway station and found to contain explosives. A second car recovered in the Luton area was also being examined.
All four of the suspected bombers
are thought to have used hire cars to travel from West Yorkshire to Luton last Thursday morning.
They then boarded a Thameslink rail service to King’s Cross where they were captured on CCTV just before 8:30am. They then split up, three of them detonating their bombs on separate trains simultaneously at 8:50am.
The bus bomb detonated 57 minutes later. Detectives are still unsure whether that bomb had been destined for a fourth Tube train.
One theory is that three bombers travelled west, east and south on the London Underground from King’s Cross and the fourth, Hussain, was supposed to go north but the Northern Line was closed that day.
Sources said there was “strong” forensic evidence linking Tanweer to the blast on the underground train near Aldgate. The semi-detached home in the Beeston area of Leeds, where he had lived all his life, was sealed off yesterday.
The driving licence and cash cards of Hussain, who was from Leeds, were found in the mangled wreckage of the Number 30 bus that blew up in Tavistock Square, killing 13.
He had told his parents he was going to London with friends on the day of the attacks and at 10:20pm that day they reported him missing to the police casualty bureau.
Documents belonging to a third suspect, who was 30 and from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, were found in the debris of the Edgware Road blast. The three men were believed to have been friends but not related.
The raids in Leeds led to the seizure of “material”, believed to be explosives and equipment that could have been used in further attacks. Security officials had been warning that more blasts could still follow.
Police made the breakthrough in the investigation after days of gathering forensic evidence.
Early yesterday morning, army bomb disposal officers and armed police officers were deployed in the series of raids on six homes in and around the West Yorkshire city. At least one controlled explosion was carried out.
Iftikhar Hussein, 27, who works at a local fish and chip shop owned by Tanweer’s father, said he did not believe Tanweer could be a terrorist.
“He was a good kid, a really nice lad. He was somebody who got on well with people,” he said.
A neighbour said Tanweer was “a nice lad – we would just see him walking in and out of the house and if so we would say hello”.
Mohammed Answar, 19, a friend of Tanweer, was stunned to hear he was suspected of being a suicide bomber and said they played cricket together only last week.
He said: “It’s impossible. It’s not in his nature to do something like this, he’s is the type of guy who would condemn things like that.”
Another friend, Azzy Mohammed, 21, said: “He’s the kind of person who gets along with anyone. His sense of humour is very good. He’s a sweet lad.”
Sajaad Hussain, said he had grown up with Tanweer and he was a “nice lad who liked to play football, play cricket. I’m just shocked like everybody else”.
The bombers appear to be the security services’ worst nightmare, so-called “clean skins”, apparently ordinary young men who had not previously come to the attention of the authorities.
“How many clean skins have we got waiting in the wings?” a senior security source said.
“What we don’t know is whether someone came in under the al-Qaeda methodology, whether they came in, did the preparation and left the country the day before the attacks.”
One theory under examination is that the bombers were assisted by an international al-Qaeda terrorist who came to Britain specifically to help co-ordinate the attacks and supply large quantities of military-grade explosives. Intelligence insiders say several previous al-Qaeda attacks featured a senior foreign operative leading a team of local militants.
Detectives and the security services fear there could still be a second suicide bomb team waiting to strike and that the al-Qaeda mastermind who orchestrated the attacks could have fled the UK.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of Scotland’s Yard anti-terrorist branch, said: “The investigation is moving at great speed. It quite early led us to have concerns about the movement and activities of four men, three of whom came from the West Yorkshire area.
“We are trying to establish their movements in the run-up to last week’s attack and specifically to establish whether they all died in the explosions.”
Despite the apparent deaths of the main culprits, intensive investigations into the blasts are continuing, as police and MI5 seek those who supplied, supported and co-ordinated the attacks.
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader who has received intelligence briefings since the attacks, said last night that security officials had been worried for some time about British citizens “who may have been flitting in and out of Iraq, learning terrorist techniques”.
Mr Kennedy triggered a political row yesterday when he appeared to link the bombings to Britain’s role in the Iraq war.
As word of the apparent suicide bombings spread around the world last night, several countries moved to step up their own security precautions.
Giuseppe Pisanu, the Italian interior minister, proposed sweeping new security laws, telling parliament that “terrorism is knocking even on Italy’s door and the doors of other European countries”.
In New York, mobile telephone networks were blocked in four major road tunnels for fear the phones could be used to trigger bombs.
In Britain, government ministers, religious leaders and police chiefs are all desperately worried that the suspected role of British Muslims in the attacks could severely damage community relations and lead to a backlash against the country’s 1.5 million Muslims.
Even as their leaders discussed plans for a national march to condemn the terrorist attacks, it emerged that a British Muslim may have been killed in an attack related to bombings.
Kamal Raza Butt was stabbed to death in Nottingham, and Muslim leaders suspect it was because of his faith.
Last night the British Muslim community was rocked by the news that the bombers may have sprung from their youth.
The Muslim Council of Britain Secretary General Iqbal Sacranie said in a statement: “We have received today’s terrible news from the police with anguish, shock and horror.
“We believe our youth are said to have been involved in last week’s horrific bombings against innocent people.
Andy Hayman, the assistant commissioner in charge of special operations at the Metropolitan Police, insisted that the terrorists should not be seen to have been acting in the name of Islam.
“The work last Thursday is the work of extremists and criminals,” he said. “No-one should smear or stigmatise any community with these attacks.”
In Leeds, Colin Cramphorn, the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, urged people “to reject any form of extreme response” to the London attacks and the subsequent events.
As police try to formally identify the bombers, some bodies from the blast sites are being fast tracked through the identification process.
The names of two more people killed in the London bombings were released by police yesterday.
Last night the Identity Commission set up in the aftermath of the attacks revealed that a total of 11 victims had now been identified.